Running (and usually losing) for student council positions in high school gave me the unique opportunity to make speeches to the student body. I had written and given speeches in Congressional debate before, but those were stodgy and political. With the student council speeches, I tried out some rhetorical flourishes and let my real opinions be known.
The first speech below is a draft for the vice-president’s race in the spring of my sophomore year. In that race I was pitted against two juniors, Jonathan Dunn and Jonathan Biberstine. My friends said that this speech was boring; I eventually scrapped this draft for a whole new rewrite. That rewrite follows after the jump.
VP Speech Draft
Having been here for 4 years, I’ve become familiar with a few things that could be improved. As vice president/treasurer of the student council, I want to solve the problems that students face at west side.
Firstly, we have to fix the perennial parking problem. The current system is too chaotic while the previous system resulted in a lot of empty spaces in the lot. We need to design a system that combines the best of both ideas. Also, we will lose about 10 parking spots next year due to the new band room. We’ve got to fix this problem once and for all.
Secondly, I want to formalize the student council’s annual project into a grant that teachers can apply for. Instead of randomly handing out a hundred dollars here and two hundred there, we can give a couple, thousand dollar grants that could really help. That janitors-closet-called-an-art-room could be improved, and broken photo equipment could be fixed. The student council should undertake specific projects around the school that will help the most people.
Lastly, if the student council is allowed to have one convo a month, then why doesn’t it? Do the math, that’s 10 convos, or 10 opportunities to delay that test or paper or homework assignment. And more convos mean more school spirit. We don’t even have to go and find the convos. Sports, music, and robotics are all types of convos that we’ve had in the past but not this year.
Besides just having ideas about what I want to get done, I’m qualified in other ways. I’m experienced, dedicated, and responsible. I’m also arguably one of the better students at West Side. And though I am the youngest candidate for this position, my sincerity to get the job done should speak for itself. Please, vote me for VP of the student council.
Note the standard, five-paragraph “first, second, last” structure. This was a straightforward, boring speech. The concluding paragraph also seems to be missing that “spark.” Realizing that I had little chance to win against two juniors, both of whom had more student council experience and and just plain-old popularity than I, I decided to throw in the kitchen sink and give a very different speech instead.
The speech below closely matches my actual speech. I had made edits on the day-of which are not reflected in this copy. The copy below is also missing my diacritical marks indicating where to pause, where to lower/raise my voice, etc.
Actual VP Speech
I’m Mohit Agrawal and I’m asking for your vote to be the next vice president/treasurer of the student council.
Firstly, let me introduce to you the story of David and Goliath. From the outset, the fight seemed to be one-sided competition. But through ingenuity, hard work, and strong beliefs, David succeed in vanquishing his foe. Now, what’s the purpose in reciting this millennial old story? Because I am the David in this matchup for VP. Me, an impudent sophomore trying to take on this pair, of junior Goliath. But just a few days ago, when everyone around me implored that I drop out to save myself from utter embarrassment, I refused, because I am not a Goliath. I am different. That is the reason that you should vote for me.
I am dedicated and responsible. When I have something to do, I get it done. I also refuse to back down until my ideas are heard and implemented. Part of that dedication led me to run for VP. This isn’t for my college application—it’s for you. I’m running because I have ideas about the council that I want to implement. The student council of this school is unique in that it is endowed with the ability, but also the responsibility, to make real decisions. Not many schools allow their student councils, instead of their principals, to approve school clubs, design parking proposals, or set up convos. However, our council has failed in carrying out its responsibilities. If elected, I’ll bring back a sense of duty and dedication to this derelict country club.
One of these failures in responsibility is the parking situation. Last year, Mr. Shriner outlined his ideas on parking to the council, and with hardly any discussion, the council blindly signed off on it. It turns out, though, that Mr. Shriner’s parking solution solves the problem as much as Hitler’s final solution won him the war. The solution to parking is not going to come from the administration—its going to come from us, the students. I have ideas on to how to fix it, you have ideas on how to fix it, and the student council is the perfect place to come up with a feasible compromise plan.
Nextly, our council is allowed to host one convocation a month. If you do the math, that comes out to 10 convos a year, or 10 different opportunities for you to delay that test, quiz, project, or whatever else. I know that I always pray for convos to take up the entire hour. But instead of 10 convos a year, right now we’re averaging half of that. We can do better. I want to host robotics and symphony convos next year, because they are fun, education, and increase school spirit, and thing we all know this school lacks.
And before signing off on this idea of dedication and responsibility, I want to remind you that I was the only candidate for VP that advertised and actively campaigned over the last few weeks. Though that may sound like someone uber-fixated on winning, what it really shows is someone who has a vision about a student council that can be much more than what it currently is. Although winning wouldn’t be bad, my intentions in running were just to spread my ideas. And to that effect, I have succeeded. And though I am the youngest candidate for this position, my sincerity to get the job done should speak for itself. Lastly, then, I realize that not everyone out there is as big a fan of me, as myself. Some see me as hyper competitive, others as a bookworm who shies away from sunlight. But whatever your reasons, please, put them aside and try to understand the ideology of my candidacy. For the last time, please vote me for VP. Thank you.
I apologize to Mr. Shriner. My “final solution” barb was incendiary and unnecessary.
This speech was far more emotive and sincere than my first draft; I believe that this speech made the difference and led to my victory as vice-president.
The following year, I strove to move up to president of the student body. My opponent was Anant Handa; Anant was running with a slate of other students. Combined, their popularity was quite strong. While my familiarity at the high school had been bolstered by my term as vice-president, my popularity hadn’t improved. More significantly, though, I just don’t think that I was a very good vice-president. I wasn’t able to capitalize on my startling win to push through the changes I had campaigned on. It was my lack of results that most hurt my chances at winning the presidency.
However, Anant also set the tone of the campaign early and caught me off-guard. His campaign posters featured me as Hitler or me killing kittens; while the school principle forced him to take the posters down, the damage had been done. Anant also campaigned on issues like “puppy love” rather than any substantive school policy issues. Of course, his campaign caught fire–while students didn’t know what Anant was going to do, they didn’t seem to care. They just found him more agreeable. [South Park made a mockery of this kind of student apathy in their episodes "Quest for Ratings" and "Dances with Smurfs".]
Below is a copy of the speech that I gave in the spring of my juinor year as I ran for president. I again made changes to the speech on the day-of (I actually cut the speech down by a few minutes), so this isn’t a word-for-word transcript. But it gets the idea across.
Too often do we overlook those who matter most. I thus thank you, the student body, for your support last year in electing me, v-p. Indeed, my foolish quest to topple Goliath became a year-long pilgrimage through parts of the council that I did not know even existed, an exploration through new avenues and old backallies of both our school’s council and administration. During my tenure this last year, I learned a few things. Like the expense and difficulty of arranging convos (the hypnotist cost two grand and took months to set-up), and the intractable nature of the parking problem (a garage would cost $11,000 to build, per spot).
But I’m not here to defend my work and time on today’s council. Instead, I’m here to promote my vision of tomorrow’s council, of how I intend to overhaul the council to promote more accountability, and ultimately, better results. Like I’ve said, I’ve learned a few things while on the council. And most important of these lessons is that at times we are our own enemies—the nature of the current council simply impedes action. Too often do we travel to nowhere, too often do we seem to be stuck in stagnant traffic. I aim not only to make next year productive and fulfilling, but to make fundamental changes in the council that will allow every year to be productive and fulfilling. I’m Mohit Agrawal, and I’m adamant about change.
After having spent the last year on the council, I have come to the conclusion that we are internally out of whack. Each member is on three or more committees, which often have no means of communication and turn into exercises in futility. I commend Judith here for her valiant efforts this past year in revising the constitution. But she of all people can attest to what I say—as head of two committees, no doubt Judith faced enormous challenges in coordinating meetings and indeed, getting anything done at all. Judith’s job this past year was to revise the constitution, but I propose something far more radical. I want to throw it out. Here in my hand I hold a new constitution that I’ve drafted that addresses the issues I’ve raised, and more. The central thesis is that the council is hobbled by miscommunication and apathy. The solutions, I hope, will revolutionize the way the council works for years to come. I’ve done away with the myriad of committees which currently exists. Instead, there will only be six. Moreover, I’ve designed a new system of accountability and communication, between council members, a system which will enable us to succeed where we have failed in the past. Hopefully these changes will be enough to prevent a repeat of this year’s fiasco—I don’t think our school has ever before tried to put on the prom with only $3000. Remove bureaucracy, increase accountability, and improve communication—my formula for a sustainable student council.
In my constitution I’ve taken an axe to existing committees, including the convos committee. I said that I would get more convos for the school, and I simply failed. Thus, I plan to shift the duties of the convocations committee to the executive board, meaning that I will personally be responsible for getting you out of class next year. And this is a responsibility I do not intend to overlook. Already we have six convos in the bag, and I will get more.
Sophomores and juniors will remember, that my platform last year included looking into solutions for parking. Over the past year, I’ve been able to study the parking problem and to try to understand its roots. We must accept that there are a finite number of spaces available, a finite number which will not increase, for the costs are simply too high. But there is a better system than today’s. I propose having two types of parking spaces, permanent and roaming. Only seniors can apply for permanent spots. Then sophomores, juniors, and those seniors who didn’t want permanent spots, can apply for roaming permits. Moreover, instead of rushing into the office at 8am, people will get these permits through a random lottery. But it will not do to have seniors get permanent spaces and then never use them. If a permanent parking space isn’t used more than 60% of the time, the senior will lose his spot. Also, I will allow and encourage permit sharing, because the lot should be full as often as possible. The last tenet of my plan is to guarantee that if your car is in a spot at 8:05 am, whether in the lot or on Meridian, then that is your spot until 3:20 pm. If parking spaces are not guaranteed, then driving to school becomes almost worthless. I thank all those who provided input to create this plan—I hope it satisfies your expectations.
You’ve heard how I will restructure the council, how we will have more convos, and how we’ll finally put the parking issue to rest. My most important contribution to next year’s council, however, is not among those three. Let me remind you all that next year our high school gets a new principal—we will have a new administration. Thus, the student council next year will have the unique opportunity to mold the relationship between the administration and students for the next coming generation. Very few councils have this unique opportunity, and even fewer councils are headed by those aggressive enough to actually pursue real change. Under my aegis, we the students will not lose the privileges that we have so ardently won—we will not regress backwards to the likes of Harrison and Jefferson. My presidency will set the new standard in the student-administration relationship.
My opponent insisted on running on a platform of world peace, utilitarianism, and puppy love. I, instead, have refused to be sidetracked—I’ve stayed on the real issues. Chuck Norris can work out in Texas, Hitler can rot in his bunker in Berlin, but here in West Lafayette, there is an auditorium full of students who ponder a choice—a choice between realism and fantasy, between pragmatism and ideology, between dedication and dereliction. Don’t let my experience and knowledge about this council, and this school, go to waste. You trusted in me last year, and I ask you to extend that trust one more year, to allow me to finish the job that I’ve just barely begun. Proverbs 21:22—“One wise person went up against a city of warriors and brought down the stronghold in which they trusted.” I am the wise man here today, and I have laid out my plans of how to bring down the stronghold of the student council, of how to revamp, reorganize, and reenergize that representative body. I am Mohit Agrawal, I’m adamant about change, and I’m your candidate for president of the executive board. Thank you to the 170 people who signed my petition last week, and thank you all for listening. To those going to Myrtle Beach this afternoon, have a great trip. To everyone else, have a great half-day. Thank you.
The speech came across as angrier than I expected, perhaps because I ended the speech in attack mode. Teachers came up to me afterwards and asked me what had ticked me off.
In any case, I suffered a landslide loss. I was told the margin was 6:1. But in this humiliation I was able to find the silver lining. I won a position as a senior class representative on the council, and I was named head of the service committee. As head of the service committee, I was able to accomplish so much more than I had the year previously as vice-president. I organized multiple food drives, blood drives, and partnered with the boys’ and girls’ service clubs at the high school to coordinate joint events. I was even awarded the AXA Community Scholarship for my work.
I’m proud of my student council career in high school. I’m proud of my election campaigns–no matter how brutal my losses, I was able to keep my head held up high because I kept the campaigns clean and stayed on the issues. I’m most proud of the service I was able to perform as chair of the service committee; I learned that you don’t have to sit at the top of the heirarchy to effect change (and more often than not, sitting at the top of the heirarchy means that you can’t effect change)–you just need to believe in yourself and go for it.